The day began with a quick breakfast, good-byes, and separation: Elise and James are heading south to New Orleans. St. Louis has become colder since we've been here; we've brought something of the North down with us.
Whoever it was that designed the interstate connections of downtown St. Louis was either very conservative about putting in roads (an appreciable quality in a historic district of a historic city) or hated humanity. In order to go South, you must leave the interstate, wander through several blocks of downtown, and take a non-descript turn on to a little road which eventually becomes a mighty interstate. None of this is labeled very well; it's one of the few times on the trip that I'm appreciative of the GPS.

Today is going to be a long day; nominally, 15 hours. I've been on trips like this before and understand the logic of it: front-load the travel time to maximize the time at your destination. But I'm a big believer in making the journey itself my destination; I'm willing to go this route because it seems the norm, but my preference would be to plan integral parts of the trip into the journey there and back.

I'm driving the approach to Nashville along wide roads, with gently rolling forests showing the first blushes of life in their trees. I stayed in Nashville a while back and began reading "The Wheel of Time" on balcony overlooking a waterfall, with music seeping from the room behind me. It made a good, lasting, nostalgia-inducing impression. The last time I visited was with Dirk on a trip which I hope to someday relate; now I'm wondering, should we stop again? It'd be a good stretch-break.
And it is.
Opryland drips with Wealth & Plenty™, though I've never felt oppressed by it nor thought it ostentatious until I saw their Christmas tree. Maybe it means I'm jaded. The presents and baubles hanging from it are huge, each as large as that big box you eye hopefully at Christmas but can't open until the end.

We speak of hypernormal responses in insects, animals, and humans; their neural networks evolved to recognise a certain class of normal stimulii, but continue to respond (and sometimes respond more strongly!) when that stimulii is exaggerated well beyond normal. Birds trying to sit on fake eggs so big their feet can't touch the ground, butterflies responding to the exaggerated forms of butterfly-mimicing flowers, myriad aspects of pornography. For me the tree is ostentatious and a bit gaudy, but, for a child, I imagine it would be a thing of wonder.

The Delta, riverboats not visible

Sarah, Gretchen, Mary, and Myself

Although, for all this wealth, we never once in our wandering through that land found free coffee, though Sarah sought it ardently. There were, however, very nice coffee machines that would read your credit card and spew out fresh coffee for you.

Passing 1000 miles at 3AM
After this it's a paroxysm of driving. Hours and hours of it. We haul through Tennessee, into Georgia, back into Tennessee, and back into Georgia. Seriously, who designed this road?

For hours and hours we're passing signs advertising Rock City and Ruby Falls, perhaps one big, red sign every mile. At first we're intrigued, then repulsed. Stopping at an info center, we see pictures of Ruby Falls (they have very good pictures in their advertisements) and are nearly drawn in before learning how much time it might take. As we pull away and pass it, the signs abruptly change, urging us not to make this mistake. Not to miss this opportunity.

The Road1

There is a rest stop we tarry by, by the shores of a mist-covered, be-mountained lake with large pine trees hovering over the parking lot; it's a place I feel peace in, but can't describe.

Atlanta rolls around a few hours later and I catch glimpses of memories receding into the clouds of an on-coming snow storm which paralyses the city shortly after we leave; we continue to bring the North down with us.

The night waxes late and Gretchen and Mary snooze. Sarah's driving and I'm riding co-pilot. It's a good arrangement; while I can talk with Mary and Gretchen, Sarah makes it possible to converse.

Georgia's an odd state. It feels like there should be a road running diagonally from northwest to southeast, and there is, at least until you reach Macon. And then the road divides, one branch heading straight south and the other going straight east until it reaches, and turns to follow, the ocean. If you cut diagonally from Macon along little roads it takes maybe twelve minutes less than if you follow the large ocean-side roads. During the day, I'd be all for taking this route, by night with the GPS issuing its commands, that choice seems less palatable.

We take the ocean-side route and stop for the night at a hotel about an hour North of St. Mary's and the Cumberland Island ferry. Skimping, we get the two-person room, sneaking everyone else in through a back entrance. I'm hungry and head to the Waffle House. Okay, it's not just that I'm hungry: Waffle House is an institution, and I don't want to miss the chance to stop there. Returning satiated, I'm prepared to sleep on the floor. There's only one bed and it's my designated role to nobly opt for the rougher, harder surface to preserve group comfort; however, I don't decline when I'm offered a fourth of the matress (it is a big bed).

1It seems I can't ask questions without answering them.

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